Review of Kim Gek Lin Short’s Run

6 mins read

Kim Gek Lin Short’s Run is nothing short of what you always wanted from a cross-genre hybridity of poesy merged with a fatal fable of death/love/sex. I think it’s poetry, but there’s a narrative, so should I just call it new? The new new poetry for the reader that demands a narrative! The closest thing I can think of is Berryman’s Dreamsongs 1-77, where you are either expecting Henry or Mr. Bones to let you in on the story… but they keep you waiting… and not unlike Berryman, there is the aforementioned death/sex, but with Short, and more importantly, the  tale of the girl who gets sold? raped?… married? Either way, these poems, also like Berryman, are strung together by lyric, by music.

In my dream I am running. I turn around and look behind

me there is the cabin and below it dug ground, a place where

my death could be.

from “Run”

This is Lala, a post-confessional matriarch of the counter-Asian-once-removed-immigrant-American-Emmylou Harris, whose center is in her boots rather than her body (this is fractured, I know, but bear with me)

I’ll tell the cops how Baba is a philosopher. How he knows

about theoretical things like why I should give the tourists a

price they do not need to pay beforehand. Make sure they put

the bucks somewhere not the suitcase. In a pocket maybe. On

the body. Why I should never tell my mother he told me to

do this.

from “Suitcase”

In this beautifully crafted handbound chap, from Rope-a-Dope press, Short lays out  the first three sections from her upcoming full length book of poetry China Cowboy (Tarpaulin Sky). The three sections are “ Hell, Hong Kong 1989”, “Fist City, Hong Kong 1997” and “La La Land, Hong Kong 1989”, and while out of order, chronologically, they run thematically from birth, “Ren made the cabin and three la las were put to be. A time of clouding. The roof hit by lightning,” to sexual perversion and loss of innocence, “Ren makes a bargain. He swears to the devil he wants La / La he will do anything… He goes all the way inside.” and later, “Ren is like a bestial organ inside my body that scares me it’s there. No, I say. / / When I can no longer remember my mother I wake up in the middle of the night thirsty and Ren gives me milk. I want water.” To the ambiguous death, which might be thought of as a cultural rebirth, but is La La still alive? – “ After they find La La’s body her mother dreams that she is washing La La’s bloody George V school uniform in a cement sink supported by La La’s legs, boots – on. She is able to get the stains out and she puts the uniform on the line outside the kitchen window to dry. It never dries.”

While sexual deviancy between girl and older man, Lao Ren and La La, provide intrigue, the real struggle here is for La La to acquire identity through American culture. She objectifies her desires through American-female country singers and cereals, and somewhere in between the two, any reader can assemble a remarkably crafted and singular voice for the desire to ‘belong’ to a culture that is not one’s own.  I believe the book’s greatest success lie within the unique fabric that create that character – the language that describes it. Particularly nouns – cowboy boots, knives, microphones, cereal, cabins, are all reoccurring, are reified, and build on a wanton (pun?) Butcher Holler / Loretta Lynn mythology that is alien to the character, geographically, but intricately wound in the fabric of the narrative. Lao Ren, too old to be taking on La La, ends up marrying? / sexing her. If you’re lost, see Coal Miner’s Daughter. That’s where the tension occurs, where the real fabric of what makes this book interesting comes from; geography and culture isn’t what makes us interesting as human beings, but the interstices of experience. (our collective tragedy)

Americans masturbate too. The white devil does not understand why La La always wears her right cowboy boot even to bed. He asks her one day. She says she has her reasons. Then she thinks to herself looking at his gray chest hairs bony pelvis… La La sleeps hard so when she is sleeping he takes off her boot tube sock and with a flame in his finger inspects the handprint wrapped around her lower leg. Calculates she must be about twelve years old.